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Perfect Dark Zero

I never really got into Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64. I was a big PC FPS fan at the time and the crummy, terrible, horrible, stupid Nintendo 64 controller just didn’t mesh with my mouse-and-keyboard mind, so when the Xbox 360 came around and Perfect Dark Zero was announced for it, I wasn’t excited. Really, the only reason I ever even ended up purchasing this game was because I thought it would have some decent multiplayer options, something my other launch purchase, Condemned: Criminal Origins, was sorely lacking. With all my years of gaming, I found that the games I least expect to surprise and please me usually do, and the ones I anticipate the strongest usually disappoint me in some way or another. For the most part, Perfect Dark Zero has carried on this trend.

Once again, gamers will find themselves in the tight suit of Joanna Dark, only this game takes place before her N64 escapade because prequels are the cool thing to do these days. The storyline opens up with some scientist being kidnapped, because there’s an unwritten rule in videogames that basically requires scientist characters to be either inventing something to ruin the world with or be victims of kidnappings. You’ve got a couple of friends to help you out along the way, including an older guy who serves as the father figure of the group and an out-spoken black girl who’s always willing to defy orders. The storyline isn’t that great to begin with and only gets worse.

The game opens up with a less-than-intense training sequence that teaches you the ropes quickly and fairly effectively, though I was left scratching my head when the game instructed me to dive through some laser wires. No matter how many times I tired, I repeatedly set off the alarms, even though I was doing everything according to the on-screen instructions (a friend of mine tried as well and couldn’t do it as the game described). From the get-go, you’ll notice that the game is very obviously missing a jump ability, which is sorely lacking. I can’t remember any recent FPS game that didn’t allow you to jump. In actuality, it’s probably a good thing they didn’t include it, because that means there aren’t any first-person platforming sequences.

While there really isn’t any specific need for jumping in the game, the omission helps contribute a sluggish feel that hurts the overall experience. Joanna is supposed to be this agile and sleek super-spy, but her game feels genuinely slow. I cranked the sensitivity up on the analog sticks to the maximum and I still felt like the game was moving terribly, unrealistically slow. This is very disappointing, because nearly everything else in this game, from the sharp, shiny graphics to the pumping techno-rock music just scream “speed.” I just can’t repeat how poor Joanna’s turn speed, walking speed, and aiming speed are to the overall experience. The slowness made me felt like I got hit a few more times than I would have if the game had reacted a little more realistically. The health replenishes automatically though, so getting hit a few extra times it more of an annoyance than anything.

A nice waypoint system works reasonably well to lead you to where you need to go, which helps get rid of this confusion, though sometimes this can be pretty frustrating if you’re waiting for someone else. As helpful as the waypoint system is, during the single player campaign, I needed to find a key and the waypoint system led me to the room that was supposed to have it, but the key wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I restarted the level that the key appeared. I don’t blame the checkpoints because, in general, they’re very helpful. Honestly, I haven’t encountered any other major bugs, but I find this bug disturbing considering how long this game was in development.

Perfect Dark Zero is quite possibly one of the shiniest games I’ve ever seen in my life. Every object and I mean everything (barrels, walls, flooring, speakers, computers, and windows) shines. It’s really, really shiny. I can’t even begin to describe the layer of shine over every single object. Overall, the framerate is solid and the draw distance is fantastic, so I can’t really complain about anything. It’s so shiny though. In general, it looks like an Xbox 360 game should. The textures are clean and don’t look repetitive at all. I really love how brick work looks on the Xbox 360. When you go up against a wall in real life, the brick sticks out a little bit, and in Perfect Dark Zero, bricks look exactly the same. Floor tiles have realistic cracks and textures, and the architecture is very impressive. A lot of little touches like this make a really attractive game.

The music is absolutely perfect for the game, with thumping techno-rock leading you through a club scene and traditional spy music accompanying you as you sneak through top-secret facilities. Sadly, Rare failed horribly with the voice-work for this game. I can find more convincing acting in the over-the-top Spanish soap operas I like to watch (I don’t understand the language, which makes the shows even better). The voiceovers for nearly everyone are unconvincing and the dialogue they had to work with doesn’t help at all. Thankfully, the dialogue is brief.

Even with Perfect Dark Zero’s problems, the game is made better thanks to some cool multiplayer options. Playing this game on co-op is a lot of fun, but then again, most games are. Instead of simply following each other around, several missions give one player one path and another character a different path, each with different objectives. This can get confusing at times, especially when you get a message from headquarters telling you to do one thing and you aren’t sure which character needs to do it. The single player mode leaves something to be desired, but the co-op mode is something to write home about. You can also play multiplayer against your friends instead of alongside them, and this is pretty fun too. Perfect Dark Zero‘s deathmatch mode is pretty robust, and with the several included multiplayer maps and load of weapons to arm yourself with, you won’t get bored anytime soon. If you don’t have the ability to get on Xbox Live to play this game, you can load up some bots to fill in for friends. Why didn’t Halo have bots again?

Everyone used to scream about how revolutionary Perfect Dark was when it was first released. It is no longer a revolutionary FPS game. Perfect Dark Zero doesn’t do anything new which makes it so disappointing. The entire single player campaign just feels old. It’s not like Half-Life 2, FarCry, or F.E.A.R., in terms of fresh design. Its level design feels stale and unspectacular. I think because the game was just in development for so long that it was horribly affected by aging. It was left behind as advancements to the FPS genre came and went. It offers a great look at the FPS genre from three years ago, but now, it just can’t stand toe-to-toe with the best on the market.

With that said, Perfect Dark Zero isn’t Halo. It isn’t the game to buy an Xbox 360 for. It does have a lot of great things going for it. Perfect Dark Zero features some of the best graphics, sound, and multiplayer that this system has to offer. The game suffers from a sluggish feel that it just can’t shake and the single player experience isn’t the greatest around, but if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience I can’t recommend any other Xbox 360 game over this one so far. This game will keep you busy until Halo 3, and for the most part, it’ll probably keep you happy too.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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